Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Nov 25th 2013
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
Male model Masayoshi Hazama has a secret. He wants to be a hero. Not in the everyday, police-and-firemen sense either. He wants to be a full-fledged superhero. Fanatically devoted to the silly sentai spectacles of his youth, Hazama is determined to become a hero of justice: to be incorruptible and impeccably good; to brook no evil and fight for the greater good; to wear a helmet and tights. He's going to become…Samurai Flamenco. Unfortunately he's not too good with secrets. He spills almost immediately to a mildly apathetic young police officer named Goto, who quickly becomes a trusted friend, and a witness to the chaos that Hazama's superhero ambitions unleash.
Samurai Flamenco is a classic slow-burner. Its promise is obvious from the outset, but it's in no hurry to cash in. Nor is it willing to push any of its increasingly marked charms hard. It's content to build slowly, keeping both feet firmly planted as it spins a surprisingly plausible action-comedy from its patently silly premise.
Strangely, Flamenco's closest anime cousin may be the largely forgotten giant robot adventure Dai-Guard. Both look to pop culture fantasies—giant robots in Dai-Guard, sentai heroes in Flamenco—and ask, what would really happen if they were real? Flamenco's answer is of course funny, but in a grounded, thoughtful kind of way. The show has a nose for the uncomfortable ways our world would nurture a "hero of justice" (or not), as well as a clear-eyed sympathy for Hazama and his nutty scheme. It never looks down on him or sneers at his ambitions, but neither does it gloss over how weird or difficult his path is. It has a grand old time with his initial incompetence—he's so frequently the victim of his own targets that his early tag line, usually blurted into a telephone as he dodges pursuers, is "Goto I've messed up!"—but at the same time finds a kind of scrappy dignity in his uncool persistence.
That balance of ruefully funny realism is characteristic of the show, even as things get progressively stranger and the show starts to layer on real-world perversions of classic sentai tropes. When an imposter shows up—as he must—he's a strangely competent, charity-minded imposter. When Hazama gains a mentor, he's a blowhard TV star with lots of useful combat training but who's perpetually and hilariously useless in a pinch. When the time comes for Samurai Flamenco to acquire a sidekick, she's a Magical Girl fanatic who instantly makes under-equipped Hazama her pathetic underling. When Hazama finally gets his hands on specialized hero gear, it's in the form of weaponized office supplies—courtesy of a mad office-supply scientist.
As Hazama works his way closer to his ideal of hero-ness, the series' stakes quietly ratchet up. He throws himself into more dangerous situations, dealing with real criminals with real weapons and real nasty streaks. The good he can do increases with his increasing abilities and strengthening alliances, but so too does the damage he can cause. Complaints start to pile up, the cops get more involved (at one point establishing a vigilante task force, which naturally Goto gets roped into), and the press gets more insistent.
In the meantime, the show's sense of humor slowly escalates, moving from the smiles and chuckles of Hazama's initial misadventures to disbelieving gusts of laughter, particularly once Flamenco Girl storms the screen in her pink Humvee, smiting bad guys with her steel-spiked wand and Taser-based magic. A smiling pixie with an unlimited wellspring of suppressed aggression, a scary taste for violent excess, and a viciously cute vendetta against testicles, she's a comic invention unparalleled anywhere else in the show. (Flamenco's office-supply armory is a close second though. Stapler nunchuks anyone?) In all honesty the series' first few episodes, with their focus on establishing the premise and characters, were kind of underwhelming. But bit by bit the show acquires entertainment value, until by episode six we're left with a rather surprising hunger for episode seven.
Takahiro Omori continues his run as anime's premier directorial chameleon. He opts for an easygoing realism this time around, matching the restrained humor and real-world speculation of Hideyuki Kurata's plot with visuals that emphasize fully-realized modern settings, believably handsome character designs, and deliberately staid editing. His direction is designed to connect as closely to the mundane reality of modern life as a TV anime can: to evoke the real world into which Hazama is trying to introduce his sentai alter ego. Even the show's fantastical intrusions are drawn and animated with an eye towards credibility. Hazama's "uniform" is a track suit with a couple of hero-ish accoutrements, topped with a red bicycle helmet, goggles, and a handkerchief mask. Flamenco Girl is clearly just a well-armed cosplayer, and Flamenco's office-supply weaponry is designed with utility and workability in mind.
Omori's deadpan direction is the reason why the show's charms—its humor, its underplayed characters, its easily underappreciated aptitude for tension and uplift—can sneak up on you so thoroughly unnoticed.
It doesn't come without its tradeoffs though. It offers few chances for Manglobe to show off its animation, making the show look kind of pedestrian from a motion standpoint. And the action tends to be delivered with a simple, efficient stylishness that's easily misremembered as dully straightforward. That Omori lets the score get unbecomingly lead-footed only adds to a general impression of stylistic unremarkableness.
It's a little odd to find oneself at the end of a show's review having barely mentioned its co-star. But there's a reason for that. Goto, who's a great guy and a superb straight man, as yet has no role beyond that. He fits uncomfortably into the series, playing the level-headed anchor but exerting little influence on Hazama. Yet. Which hints at the lethal flaw at the heart of these episodes. As enjoyable as they are, they never take off. Even a quarter of the way into Hazama's journey, we're still on the runway, waiting to take flight. Waiting to see why Goto and Hazama's friendship is so important to Kurata. Waiting to get a sense for where Hazama's quest is leading. Waiting for Omori and his crew to bring out the heavy hooks and turn this show we like into one we love.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Fun premise, strong cast, and a nicely understated sense of humor; interestingly realistic; Flamenco Girl is great.
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